There has been much in the worldwide media about the mid-term elections in the USA. This event has no impact on Namibia. Still, I ask your indulgence as I wax political about happenings in the land of e pluribus unum.
In my view, as someone who used to work on Capitol Hill back in the day, it was absolutely critical that the House or the Senate (or both!) change hands in these mid-term elections. Thankfully, at least the House is now controlled by the Democrats.
Trump can lie to save face as much as he wants, but the reality is that he must now compromise on many levels even though he doesn’t yet know how to do so.
I beg to disagree with those who have claimed that healthcare or immigration were the only issues for these mid-term elections. Instead, the most critical issue was support for a better balance of power.
In my view, it was never envisioned by the founding slave holders of the USA, back in post-colonial times, that the tri-cameral system would have one political grouping or one political ideology controlling all three branches of government (Executive, Judicial and Legislative).
Donald Trump did not win the popular vote for president (he received some 63 million votes). But, the Electoral College went in his favour; so be it. The 73.5 million people who voted against Trump (and for Hilary and other candidates) now have legs due to this mid-term election win in the House. Even better, millions who did vote for Trump and now regret it, have been able to express themselves by voting Democrat in the mid-terms.
Most importantly to me, this election shows that the American system remains remarkable 241 years since it was put in place. Trump has an institutional counter-balance now – as all in power should.
Let me breeze through US civics 101 so you can have some background on the point I am making. I ask forgiveness in advance for those who know better and will cringe at my over-simplifications.
Every two years there are national elections in the USA. (There are state and local elections held too) This one is called ‘mid-terms’ because it is held in the middle of the sitting president’s four year term. While the president is not yet up for re-election, the results of the mid-terms are generally used as a litmus test on how well the person in the Oval Office is doing.
The US (except for the presidency) has a direct election system. People run for office under particular party platforms, but it is the individuals that people vote for, not the party per se.
Recall that President Geingob just chastised SWAPO members of Parliament for saying and doing as they chose, reminding them that the people voted for the party and not for them as individuals.
In the USA, the opposite situation exists. Elected officials, regardless of their party, have every right to speak publicly as they choose and vote their consciences. There are no ‘party lists’ and a party can never re-call an elected official.
The House of Representatives (435 members) where each person serves a two-year term and must be re-elected each time. The number of seats for a particular state is determined by its population.
The party with the majority of seats in the House controls the committees and holds the seat of the Speaker of the House, which is powerful legislatively, but is also third in the line of succession to the Oval Office.
Take note that in the USA, all legislation is controlled by congressional committees. With this shift in control of the House, those committee chairs and a majority of seats on each committee are now in the hands of the Democrats.
Among other duties like the ability to launch investigations or impeach the president, the House has the power of the purse. Trump can bluster and blather about building walls or re-starting the arms race or cutting corporate taxes, but he cannot do any of it, without the House.
The USA has about 326 million people. A huge state like California has 53 House reps due to their population of 39.5 million, while tiny New Hampshire, with a population of 1.3 million has only two.
But, here is the great equalizer: a very senior representative from a small state could hold the chair of a powerful committee if their party controls the House.
For example, Richard Neal, a Democrat from little, liberal Massachusetts with only nine congressional districts will probably be the new chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. This is one of the oldest and most commanding committees on Capitol Hill as it controls taxation, social security and all aspects of revenue collection for the most powerful country in the world.
Then, there is the US Senate (100 members) which has remained in Republican hands after the mid-terms. Senators serve six year terms. Each state, regardless of its population or size, gets two Senators. Every two years (like now), at least 1/3 of the Senate is up for re-election. Before the mid-terms, Republicans held 51 of the 100 seats. Now, it seems they will have 54 seats (under correction).
Dems losing ground in the Senate could imply that the Trump message remains popular. But, I tend to disagree with this conclusion.
All Republicans are not ‘Trump’ Republicans. In fact, many of the old-guard Senate Republicans despise Donald Trump and find his Tweets, prevarications, over-simplifications, nods to intolerance and ignorant rants an anathema that have damaged their party. Look at former Republican Presidential candidate, Mit Romney, who just won a Utah Senate seat. Mit openly disagrees with (and dislikes) Trump and will never vote solely because of dictates from the White House.
Senate Republicans have and will cross the aisle to vote with Democrats when it serves their constituencies or their political interests.
The Senate has the power to advise-and-consent on judicial, ambassadorial, cabinet and other appointments nominated by the president.
Trump could easily get another Supreme Court whack if one of the judges dies or retires before the end of his term in 2020. Already, conservative judges have a 5-4 control of the nine member court and that can affect lives of Americans for decades to come. Imagine the impact if (when) civil rights laws are weakened, abortion is banned or pro-Republican gerrymandering is upheld.
Thank Goodness that these mid-terms have forced a bit more balance in the USA.